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Celebrating American Cheese Month

American Cheese Education Foundation scholarships support careers in cheese

Photography by MISA ME, courtesy of American Cheese Society

Before attending the American Cheese Society’s annual conference three years ago (in Richmond, VA), Toronto-based Julia Treloar—head fromager at Cheese Boutique—had traveled to the United States only twice. She’d heard rumblings about how delicious and diverse American cheeses are—but it’s hard to voice your own acclaim without trying them first.

And so, once in Richmond, she tasted as many American cheeses as possible at the conference and dining out on the town. “I had no idea there were so many cheesemakers in America,” she says.

Tasting cheeses at the 2019 ACS Conference in Richmond, VA

What made Treloar’s trip to the conference possible was a fully funded scholarship through the American Cheese Education Foundation (ACEF), the 501(c)(3) arm of the American Cheese Society that solicits funds to further cheese professionals’ education through a variety of means.

“We recognize as an industry there are folks who are mongers or in retail and don’t necessarily have the money to travel to the conference or take off work,” says Tara Holmes, ACS’ executive director. “We want to limit the barriers for those who want to attend the conference.” Holmes reports a higher number of applicants in 2022 than in previous years.

Awarding 10 to 15 of these scholarships each year is one way that the American Cheese Society honors American Cheese Month each May, which coincides with the scholarship deadline.

American Cheese Month was held in October until 2019, when it was moved to May to better support North American dairy farmers and cheesemakers, and the cheesemongers and retailers who sell their products. Overall, the month-long initiative is about promoting the incredible diversity of these cheeses as well as the local, small, and family-owned farms that make it happen. Pinpointing inspiring examples of sustainable production models in the cheese industry is another aim woven into the marketing.

Funds donated to ACEF are also used to create and host webinar content, and to support education and scientific research about specialty cheeses. This all ties into the larger goal of furthering education in the industry—at all levels, from mongers to makers.

As a call to action, those in the American cheese industry are asked to participate by donating funds through this link (a portion of retailers’, cheesemakers’, and specialty-food distributors’ sales can also be donated) or using American Cheese Month graphics for in-store marketing or on social media.

For Tyler Coenen, 30, a cheese specialist at a Hy-Vee grocery store in Adell, Iowa, attending the 2019 ACS conference as the recipient of the John Crompton Memorial Scholarship was a game-changer. Only retail-industry employees can apply and should be able to demonstrate financial need.

“It was one of the coolest things I’ve been able to do,” Coenen says about attending the conference that year in Richmond. “I had not been to any conference, whether it was cheese or anything else. There were people I’d seen on Instagram and cheesemongers I’d read about online. The people who are there have done it all.” What Coenen enjoyed most at the conference was the ability to “interact in person and pick their brain and learn how they got to where they are now,” he says.

Saying “Cheers” to cheese at the 2019 ACS Conference

At the age of 21, Coenen launched his career in cheese by working at the highly respected Scardello Artisan Cheese in Dallas, Texas, as a cheese specialist. “I was tasting some of the most amazing cheese offered in the United States in that cheese shop,” he says. It was the owner’s involvement with ACS that introduced him to the organization—and the scholarship opportunity.

Based on his positive experience in Richmond, Coenen enthusiastically signed up as co-chair for the 2023 conference, since it’s going to be in Iowa.

Working in a supportive, family-owned company also encouraged Coenen to become a Certified Cheese Professional (CCP) through ACS in 2019, the same year he attended the conference. “Now, I’m back in my home state doing something that I’m passionate about and bringing that passion to customers. I just try and get as much fun and unique (cheeses) as I can,” he says. “If I don’t find it interesting and worth spending money on, I obviously wouldn’t want to push it on the customer.”

Access to American cheese also broadened Treloar’s knowledge. Once she’d tasted American cheeses she vowed to make them available to customers at her Toronto shop, now on its third-generation owners and proud to sell 500-some varieties of cheese. Recently she began to retail Humboldt Fog, Bermuda Triangle and Truffle Tremor, all from Cypress Grove in Arcata, CA. But she’s not stopping there. “We really want to get Jasper Hill, Vermont Creamery and Cowgirl Creamery,” says Treloar.

“When you work in a cheese shop, you can share all that with customers,” says Coenen. “My favorite part is helping customers and allowing them to branch out like I did.”

Applications for scholarships to attend the American Cheese Society’s annual conference are accepted every spring, with May 1 as the deadline. In 2023 the conference will be in Des Moines, Iowa. The Peterson Company—a family-owned specialty-foods importer and distributor in Auburn, Washington—specifically earmarks its donation for BIPOC scholarships, and applicants can on their application indicated they’d like to be considered for the Peterson scholarship. “It’s an important area of our industry that’s often overlooked,” says Tara Holmes, ACS’ executive director, about increasing diversity among conference attendees. Vermont Creamery is another company that continually makes large donations to the foundation. More information about the scholarship program is at cheesefoundation.org.

Kristine Hansen

Based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Kristine Hansen is author of Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook: Creamy, Cheesy, Sweet, and Savory Recipes from the State's Best Creameries (Globe Pequot Press, 2019) and covers food and travel for outlets that include Milwaukee Magazine and the websites for Architectural Digest and Travel + Leisure.

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